Downhill dreams

SARANAC LAKE – A year made a big difference to 9-year-old Cody Montagnoli when it came to racing soapbox derby cars.

A year ago, at Saranac Lake’s Daffest Derby race, Montagnoli didn’t even reach the finish line in either one of his rides down the quarter-mile long mile run that starts under the pedestrian bridge over the LaPan Highway and ended at the Main Street intersection. But on Saturday, it was smooth sailing for the youngster in his sleek Swiss Marine car.

A veteran of all four Daffest Derbies, Montagnoli finally rode to victory, taking first place in the 9-12-year-old division with a winning time of 35.09 seconds.

“Last year was awful. I didn’t get to the finish line at all,” Montagnoli said. “I think my wheels were better. In this race, what you have to do is if you go off track, you have to turn away from the (hay) bales, and you have to brake going over the finish line. That’s about it. I really didn’t have to steer at all. I went straight down the hill.”

“It looks like a real race car this year,” added Cody’s grandfather Bart Simonson. “It looks like a winner.”

Following a tradition, many of the youngsters share their cars with friends, and that was the case for Montagnoli, who stood on a hay bale near the finish line while cheering for Faith Warner, who cruised down the course in the same white ride emblazoned with blue lettering. As it turned out, Warner finished as the runner-up in the same division and was less than a second off the winning time.

This year’s field of racers was smaller than a year ago as 75 racers took to the course; more than 100 took part in the derby in 2013.

Fortunately, the rain that was forecast for Saturday stayed at a minimum, which made it a pleasant afternoon for the competitors and participants.

Each racer took a pair of runs, with the fastest time of the two counting in the standings.

In car racing, pit crews are an important part of the mix, and that was no different during the Daffest Derby. Parents, grandparents and friends, as well as a slew of spectators kept a close eye on the young drivers as they ran up and down the LaPan Highway hill, rooting on the racers.

Joe Thill, a Lake Clear resident and teacher at Saranac Lake High School, was able to help his son Simon turn things around between the youngster’s two runs.

“We did some last-minute repairs,” Thill said prior to his boy’s second trip.

When asked what went wrong on run No. 1, Thill just said, “The car didn’t cross the finish line the first time.” About a half-hour later, a smiling Thill exclaimed, “That was a great run there,” just after watching Simon win his heat in the 9-12-year-old division. Simon Thill wound up placing 15th in his field, which featured 30 competitors.

Colin Fust placed first in the 5-8-year-old class with a winning run of 35.87 seconds. In the 13-15-year-old division, Madison Moon sped to victory in 35.37 seconds.

There were even a few older racers who gave driving a soapbox derby car a try, and they were entered in the 16-and-older class. In that field, Brett Krzynski took the win in 37.94 seconds.

In a grudge match late in the race, the heads of the Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce took it to the street in their soapbox derbies. When the dust had settled, Katy Van Anden claimed the win on home turf by edging out Tupper Lake’s Michelle Clement.